Our Quirky Election System
The British have left us some ‘gifts’, including one that determines who runs our country, and thereby rules our lives – our election system.
 
This system follows the 'first past the post' principle, i.e., the winner is the one with the highest number of votes. Just one vote more than the next best – and you are the winner.
This system often produces quirky results. Some examples:
 
#1 Three candidates are in the fray – A, B and C.
- The supporters of B and C hate A intensely, and don’t want him to win. B’s supporters feel that if B doesn’t win, C should win, but not A. Similarly, C’s supporters want B to win in case C loses, but not A. 
- A gets 40% of the votes, B gets 38% and C gets 22%. Our system proclaims A as the winner.
- Hence, the winner is the candidate 60% of voters did not want.
 
#2 Just two parties, X and Y, are contesting 500 seats. In every seat, X gets 51% of the votes and Y gets 49%. Party X wins all 500 seats, while party B, despite being supported by nearly half the voters, gets no seat at all. 
 
#3 Party P gets 25% of the total votes cast in an election. Nevertheless, it may get no seats at all if parties Q and R get 40% and 35%, respectively. Thus, 25% of the voters are completely ignored.
 
How is this a fair and democratic system, one that reflects the 'wish of the people'?
 
I admit that these examples are somewhat extreme, but the fact is – the 'first past the post' system does not accurately represent public choices.
 
Consider the recent UK parliamentary elections. Here is a chart comparing the vote shares, and seats won, in the 2019 and 2024 elections.
 
 
Some of the results are quirky:
- Labour has gained less than 2% (from 32.1% to 34.0%) in vote share, but has won more than double the seats (412 vs 202).
- The Liberal Democrat Party has gained a minuscule 0.4% in vote share (12% vs 11.6%) but its seat share has jumped nearly seven-fold (71 vs 11).
- A bunch of smaller parties have a combined vote share of 27%, but only 37 seats (5.7% of total seats).
 
People have long been aware of this inherent flaw in the 'first past the post' voting system, viz., that a party with minority support, that too a smallish percentage, can win an election. In this case, with just about one-third of the votes, Labour has a strong majority (63%). It will run the government, and will also dominate the Parliament, for the next five years. 
 
Question arises: Is there a better system?
 
Wales uses a ‘proportional representation’ system, in which the Parliament has two types of members – local and regional – and every voter has two votes:
- The voter’s first vote goes to elect the local MP, following the 'first past the post' system.
- The second vote is cast in favour of one out of several political parties, which then get a proportionate number of regional MPs. Thus, if a party gets 30% of the second votes, it can nominate 30% of the regional MPs. 
 
Another system, perhaps a better one, would be to give each voter two votes, but in a different way.
The first vote will have a 100% weightage, and the second will have a 50% weightage. Thus, a voter would choose candidate R for his first vote and candidate S (from another party, obviously) for the second vote.
 
Effectively, the voter would be saying, “I want R to win, and hence (s)he gets my first vote. But if R doesn’t win, then I want S to win, and hence my second vote goes to S (though this second vote will be worth only half of the first vote).”
 
Going back to example #1, candidates A, B and C would get 40%, 38% and 22%, respectively, of the first votes, from those who support them. But when it comes to the second vote, A will get none because the supporters of B and C will cast their second votes in favour of C and B, respectively, because none of them will want A to win. 
 
Therefore, the winning candidate will be B (or perhaps C), based on the primary support of one group of voters, and the secondary support of another group. In either case, the winner will be a more popular choice than A, whom 60% of the voters did not favour.
 
There could be a few issues:
- Will the voters understand? I believe they will. Indian voters, regardless of background, are very vote-savvy.
- What if a voter wants to choose only one candidate? Easy one - vote none-of-the-above (NOTA) in the second vote.
- Logistics? No problem, I expect. Electronic voting machines (EVMs) can be modified to handle double votes.
 
I know, I know...
 
Any proposal to amend elections will be vehemently opposed, and challenged in courts, by one party or another.
 
But, truth be told - the 'first past the post' system is inherently flawed. We need to make our election system more democratic, and we must start thinking about how to address the quirks in the system. Otherwise, the system will never change.
 
And... Our rulers will (almost inevitably) be a bunch of politicians whom the majority does not want.
 
I am grateful to Praveen Godbole, a reader of Moneylife for suggesting this topic to me, and providing valuable inputs as well. 
 
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world, playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)
Comments
sharmajiindia
2 days ago
This is very interesting with getting wise in almost all the pubic related issues now only. All the best solutions to any problem is thought out now. Was everybody is in hibernation for more than seventy years and all good thoughts only and needs to be implemented now itself that’s utterly strange, every smallest change in public space takes tons of time to get initiated to be implemented.
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